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The Lived Encounter by Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, PhD

Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, PhD, LPC, is an author, professor, and in private practice in Denver, Colorado. Dr Vallejos teaches at CIIS, Antioch University and Naropa University.  She received her Foundations Certificate from EHI in 2012 and attended additional experiential training retreats in 2013-2014.

I have just walked out of the most transformative three days of my life. I find myself grappling to find the words to capture the beauty and power of this encounter without diluting the essence. I find that I suddenly understand Heidegger’s use of the hyphen in his writings as the English language suddenly falls far short of a single word, or even a handful of words, powerful enough to describe these 72 hours.

The Existential-Humanistic Institute, co founded by Drs. Kirk Schneider, Orah Krug, and Nader Shabahangi hosted the first Existential Experiential training retreat for certificate-seeking students [in 2012]. Participants included attendees from Saybrook University and a handful of non-Saybrook students. There were students present from Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Massachusetts, Canada, Vienna, and Malaysia. The program was taught by Dr. Krug, Dr. Schneider and Dr. Shabahangi with a brief appearance by Dr. Tom Greening.

As this was the first time this certificate program was offered, none of us knew what to expect. What did happen was far more than any of us could have dreamed of as we took the textbook knowledge we’ve held and converted it into real-life experience. Although each of the theorists we study, including May, Bugental and Yalom, describe the importance of the present moment and the “encounter,” the beauty and richness of encounter transcends words. Within 72 hours, we went from virtual strangers to valued colleagues and friends. We held space for each other to grow, learn, experience, and heal. We bore witness to one another’s struggle. We held each other as we strained to break through old constructs about ourselves and the world. We breathed each other’s hellfires and joined together in the slaying of old demons.

One colleague, a physician who delivered babies for more than 20 years described a process with the Zulu tribe of Africa when a baby is born. When the child is delivered, the mother holds the baby and states “Sawubona,” which translates to “I see you”. The child is seen and valued.

I believe that Sawubona describes beautifully what we experienced in these few days. We were offered an opportunity to see and be seen, in a safe environment. The lived experience of “Encounter” was a vital step in our training as Existential-Humanistic therapists and for how we live our daily lives.

It is not a stretch to say that we have all been radically changed as a result of this experience. We will be better therapists, parents, partners, students, lovers, writers, and whatever other role we may fill. I believe that we each embody a new sense of Sawubona and that our deepened awareness of presence and encounter has been profoundly enriched as a result.

~Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, PhD, LPC

Other Student Experiences

Explore JoAnn Loo’s 5-part Saybrook blog series, The Courage to Seek.

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A key result of life-enhancing anxiety is awe-based consciousness—a sense of adventure toward all living.

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